Suffering Artist, Age 6

As I write I hear my child sobbing while dutifully exploring painting.  I never knew showing him the way to painting would be so painful.  He has always been so passionate and self driven.  But in this process I trust he will find his way to new and deeper understanding of the process of the way to progress and better tomorrows.  Still it breaks my motherly heart.

Javier told me one afternoon while driving around with me: I want to make a painting of a yellow flowered tree behind our house at dusk. It was a very specific request. I could sense he had a picture in his mind of what he wanted and how it would look. This tree does exist. It is a big old tree that he can see well outside his window, just beyond our house.

Before I could sit down with him to direct him, he had already drawn the trunk.  In his uncanny artistic sensibility he drew it off center but stopped because he did not know how to avoid the old childish ways of doing a big roundish ball on top of the tree. He brought me his drawing and said: How am I going to make the top? I told him he would not draw the shape of the top of the tree but first draw the skeleton of the tree, branches, big ones first and guess where they divided to build that general shape of the tree.  Then we would add leaves.

He came back to me less than an hour later. His trunk had veins, he had the branches that reached out in a whimsical fashion that matched the shape of that big ol tree. He had also drawn leaves and put himself in along with a couple of imaginary palm trees that seemed to sway in the wind. His drawing was beautiful. We all complimented his on a job beautifully done.

Then came the hard part. “Now,” I explained “you have to paint over it and do the background colors of  your painting. I took a piece of paper out and quickly alluded to his project. I talked him through the steps. “You want to cover the whole canvas. Think about the time of day and where the lighter and darker parts of the sky are going to be.  When it is morning you go lighter at the horizon to more intense blue on top, when the sun is going down, then it can be the opposite. It depends on where the sun sets. In our case the sun sets behind us.  We can put reds and purples on the sky to remind people the sun is setting. The grass will be dark. Cover the canvas and then play with the designs of the brush and the colors. Have fun.” I then painted on top of the background, a tree like his, leaves and flowers. I even painted his silver clouds and white bright moon. I showed him that with these paints, light colors can go on top of dark colors.

He listened intently and yet at every pause in my instructions he reached for the brush in my hand and quickly said, ” I understand, let me do it.” “I know how to do it now.” Then the time came when it was his turn. He started out well. But then he stopped. He started painting around the tree. I told him he had to paint over his tree and then draw it again but with paint. “Painting is not drawing. Drawing helps you know what you want so you can do it. But painting will always give you something different.” I tried to explain simply and to the point.

I left him to do other things and then heard sobbing. He had fallen in love with his drawing and now could not bear to paint over it. I tell him the drawing was practice to show him the way, how to use the space.” In tears he begs me not to make him paint over it.  I opened a big art book to show him how artists paintings do the same thing and that is why they don’t have white gaps around the edges. We looked at his previous painting examples and saw the white edges. He knew what had to be done and why and yet he cried.

He cried some more without an audience. Then there was silence. Half an hour later he came to me and said, “Mom, come look at my painting, I already finished the background. What do we do next!”  His excitement made it all better. It lessened my guilt for being a stern art teacher and mother that would not coddle him.  It did not feel good then, but I am sure through all this pathos he will remember we painted the backyard view together and his painting will be awesome.